Thursday, August 30, 2007

Fashionistas 2: Hadley out September 20th

Hadley Harlow was once the world's biggest child star. Now she's strictly C-list and launching herself on the London celebrity circuit to revive her flagging career. Sure, Hadley's high maintenance but she's also a tough cookie who isn't going to let anything stand in her way whether it's pesky agents, jealous co-stars or three diva-like flatmates. Not to mention the disapproval of Reed, hip film director and notorious modeliser. Like she cares what he thinks! But even when you're on the bottom rungs of the showbiz ladder, you can still have a long way to fall. Learning to live in the real world is going to be Hadley's toughest role yet...

Though I should point out that this is the UK (and Australia and NZ release date - still no news on US publication.) And I hear from reliable sources that the first copies are already on sale, if you're lucky.

Check back here for a sneak preview of Hadley in the next week or so...


Sarra x

Monday, August 20, 2007

A big, stinky ball of fear... or how to interview

I have a bit of time to kill this morning as I'm doing a celebrity interview, which has been put back by an hour and a half. As a lot of you know, when I'm not writing tawdry teen novels, I earn a crust or two by writing for glossy women's magazines. The weird thing is that I've been doing this for over a decade (!) but I still get in a right panic before an interview. I never sleep the night before, my stomach is currently doing odd fandangoes and I'm manically chewing gum to get rid of the metallic taste in my mouth.

You'd think I'd be used to it by now, especially as very few interviews have turned out to be unmitigated disasters. And as I'm always being asked for writing pointers, I thought I'd compile a little list of interviewing tips I've picked up over the years:

1. Be prepared

Do your homework. Read up on the person you're interviewing and never try to wing it because therein lies disaster and humiliation. I always have a long list of questions so the conversation never lapses into an awkward silence and I can keep plugging away, no matter how difficult my subject is, until they start sharing.

2. Open questions

This is something I learnt when I studied journalism at 16 and I've never forgotten. Always ask questions that begin with who, what, where and how. This means that the interviewee can't answer them with yes or no. Fr'instance if you ask them, "Do you like cheese?", they come back with a "yes" or "no." But if you ask them, "Why do you like cheese?", they can start banging on about the joys of a good, stinky Brie.

3. Put your subject at ease

I never just launch into my questions but first explain what the interview will be about, who the readers will be and what areas I'll be covering. And then to relax them, I check that my recording equipment is working by asking them what they had for breakfast that morning! And an "I love your shoes/bag/last movie" is always a good tactical move but avoid gushing.

4. it's good to talk

Although it's an interview and you have a long list of questions, this is not an interrogation and the questions don't need to be answered in a particular order. The best interviews should be like having a chat with a friend that you've only just met for the first time. The natural flow of a conversation is far better than a stiff question and answer session and you'll find that in the course of talking, your subject will probably answer five of your questions that you haven't even got round to asking yet.

5. Record

Always record your interviews. When I've been interviewed and the interviewer is just listening and assumes they'll remember all my sparkling bon mots, I know that I'll be misquoted and they'll get facts wrong. I'm also very anti note taking. If I'm writing down answers, I'm still missing stuff and not paying attention to what I'm being told. In fact, I'm so paranoid that I record all my interviews twice; on a little tape recorder and my iPod (I have a little gizmo that I plug into the mic socket, which turns it into a voice recorder.) This is also a practical thing - God, forbid someone claims that I've misquoted them, I have the interview tapes to know that I haven't. Legally, journalists are meant to keep their interview tapes for at least two years (or is it three years, or even five? I never can remember!), after which time no libel proceedings can be brought against them.

6. Share alike

Another great tip for getting people to talk to you, especially in difficult situations, is to tell them a bit about yourself. That doesn't mean you should talk at great length about your life but say, you're asking them about a break-up, offering a little anecdote about a relationship of your own that ended badly and showing that you understand where they're coming from makes you seem a little less like the enemy.

7. DIY

Transcribing interviews is one of the most tedious aspects of being a journalist. But I always transcribe my own tapes - in fact, one of my first paid gigs was transcribing tapes for a business journalist for £10 a side! Even in the days, when I did have an assistant, I quickly realised it was best to do my own transcribing. Not just because I know that any mistakes or edits are my own but also so I really get a feel for how my interviewee talks, which is really important in writing up the piece.

So these are my best interview tips. I mainly talk to celebrities and do a little real-life, and there are other tricks to interviewing people for news stories but I don't know what they are!

And talking of interviews, in the current issue of British ELLE is an interview I did with one of my favourite actresses, Maggie Gyllenhaal, so you can check out my technique for yourselves.


Sarra x